What Stress Does to the Brain
A Familiar Pain
Stress is something we’re all familiar with. Oftentimes, it’s something we can’t do a lot about in regard to removing the source of the stress. We’re stressed about money, our future, our kids, our relationships, our health, etc. We want to do the best we can about all that is important to us, but when our efforts don’t yield the results we need and we have way too many tasks going on at the same time, that’s when stress digs into you.
What Does Stress Do to the Brain?
When under severe and/or prolonged stress, the brain over-produces the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is an influential hormone, regulating blood sugar, and helps the body recover after a stressful incident that triggers the fight-or-flight response. When there is too much cortisol, the body can’t process it all fast enough to get rid of the fight-or-flight state.
Another thing too much cortisol does is kill brain cells and create imbalances between types of brain cells and their interactions with each other. Over time, stress begins to slowly destroy the prefrontal cortex, affecting ability to retain memories and process information to make new ones. The brain can actually shrink from complications caused by stress, an alarming fact.
Chronic stress can spread inflammation throughout the body. This is connected to headaches, joint pain, high blood pressure, low libido, and more issues that only exacerbate the sufferer’s stress level.
It barely needs to be said that stress worsens existing mental health conditions. Anxiety is stress’s best friend, and they help each other grow. Being on edge all day is exhausting and often makes sufferers irritable and unable to enjoy the positive moments they work so hard to create.
Finding Greater Peace
If you are feeling stressed to the point that it is reducing your quality of life, see your general physician first. Describe your stress, stressors, and the effects on your body and mind. Your GP can make recommendations tailored to your situation and refer you to the right specialists, from nutritionists to neurologists.
Have a conversation with yourself about stress and your unique relationship with it. This is an example of metacognition, or thinking about the way we think. Journaling is a great way to explore your situation and thought processes to expose patterns and unrealized truths.